Outdoor Outreach: USU Undergrad Shares Love of Nature with Public
Thursday, Mar. 20, 2014
In her hometown of Cedar City, Utah, USU undergrad Hope Braithwaite, left, leads fourth graders in a water quality learning activity at the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District's March 2014 Water Fair.
During winter break, Braithwaite, pictured, and classmate Tim Bateman conducted a study of elks' feeding habits at Cache Valley’s Hardware Ranch. Their research was funded by a USU URCO grant.
Like many of her peers, Utah State University undergraduate Hope Braithwaite headed to her hometown (in her case, Cedar City, Utah) during the school’s recent spring break. While others may have indulged in well-deserved ‘R & R,’ Braithwaite was on a mission.
With USU Water Quality Extension specialist Brian Greene, coordinator of Utah Water Watch, Braithwaite led more than 700 fourth graders in hands-on water conservation activities at the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District’s inaugural Water Fair March 10-11 at Cedar City’s Aquatic Center.
“I thought it was a huge success,” says Braithwaite, a wildlife sciences major and fisheries minor. “It was fun to take what I’ve learned at Water Quality Extension and share it with the youths of my hometown.”
While some youngsters dove right into the activity, getting some of them to catch and examine aquatic bugs required gentle encouragement, she says.
“Many asked if the bugs would bite them,” says Braithwaite, who’s worked with Water Quality Extension since April 2011. “But once we got into the activity, the children relaxed and asked more questions.”
Using time off from classes to perform outreach and research has become a habit for Braithwaite.
“I don’t really think of it as work,” she says. “It’s so interesting and so much fun.”
In addition to working with kids at various events throughout the state, Braithwaite assists Extension leader Nancy Mesner, faculty member in USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences, with training teachers in “Stream Side Science,” a core science curriculum developed by Mesner for grades 9-12. Back at the office, Braithwaite has taken the reins of the office’s multiple websites and expanded their online educational information and tools.
“Hope has become our resident website guru and single-handedly overhauled our much-visited Bear River Watershed Information System site,” Greene says. “I estimate she’s reached more than 5,000 people directly with her outreach efforts and more than 100,000 people via our websites. That’s really impressive for a student.”
Beyond work and the classroom, Braithwaite, a 2010 graduate of Cedar High School, is an active undergraduate researcher. During summer 2013, she assisted ecology graduate student Kyle Nehring with an herbivore project near Moab, Utah, while staying at the Canyonlands Research Center. In fall 2013, she secured a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities “URCO” grant to pursue research on elk at Cache Valley’s Hardware Ranch.
“My classmate Tim Bateman and I monitored the elks’ reaction to different kinds of feed and different styles of troughs,” she says.
With guidance from Wildland Resources faculty mentors Kari Veblen, Juan Villalba and Eric Thacker, the two undergrads spent six days during the winter holiday break, as well as four-day periods over January and February’s holiday weekends, observing the animals from dawn until dusk.
“It was cold, but the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staff at the ranch allowed us to stay in the visitors’ center and observe from indoors, when possible,” Braithwaite says. “They also took us out in the horse-drawn sleds each day to put out the feed for the elk.”
Braithwaite and Bateman presented their research findings at the 2014 annual meeting of Utah Chapter of The Wildlife Society in St. George March 19-21. She says she looks forward to presenting the research at USU Research Week’s 10th anniversary Student Showcase on April 11.
Beyond campus, Braithwaite volunteers with the Best Buddies program, which paired her with a 24-year-old developmentally challenged woman.
“We watched all of the High School Musical movies together — her favorite,” Braithwaite says. “We bowl — she’s much better than me — and bake cookies. We also cleaned the sink at Angie’s (referring to consumption of a well-loved dessert at a popular local eatery.)”
To USU freshmen, she advises getting involved in campus and getting to know faculty members. She urges students to get involved in research and to “not be shy” about approaching professors.
“The QCNR faculty has just been super-welcoming,” Braithwaite says. “Some of them greeted us all by name the first day we walked into class.”
Contact: Hope Braithwaite, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, email@example.com